IS identifies 7 suicide bombers
Local Islamic extremist group NTJ behind attacks, claims Lankan Government
Toll rises to 321
Mass funeral held
Emergency declared upon the directives of President Sirisena
THREE days after the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the devastating Easter blasts that killed 321 people while Sri Lankan Government has said that little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) was behind the attacks.The IS also identified the seven suicide bombers who were involved in the attacks. In a statement issued through its propaganda ‘Amaq’ news agency, the IS said that “the executors of the attack that targeted citizens of coalition states and Christians in Sri Lanka two days ago were with the group,” according to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activities.
The statement identified the attackers as Abu Ubayda, Abu al-Mukhtar, Abu Khalil, Abu Hamza, Abu al-Bara’a, Abu Muhammad and Abu Abdullah, and their respective targets. It also claimed that around 1,000 people were killed or wounded in the blasts. “The detail given in #IS’ communique (attackers’ names, where each of them attacked) shows that the group had a hand in the attack - the degree to which still remains to be seen. The group’s delay in claiming is also an unanswered variable,” SITE Intelligence Group Director Rita Katz tweeted. Sri Lanka has said little-known local Islamic extremist group called National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) was behind the attacks and it was investigating whether they had international support as the toll rose to 321 on Tuesday. Ten Indians were among 38 foreigners killed in the attacks. “All suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals,” said Government’s spokesman Rajitha Senaratne, who is also the Health Minister.
Forty suspects, including the driver of a van allegedly used by the suicide bombers, have been arrested in connection with the attacks which shook Sri Lanka. National flags were lowered to half mast and people bowed their heads as a three-minute silence began at 8:30 am local time, the time the first of the attacks occurred on Sunday. Addressing an emergency session of Parliament on Tuesday, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said the “preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch”.
According to an Intelligence memo sent to some government officials before the attack, a member of the NIJ had posted “extremist content” on social media after the Christchurch shootings were carried out by a right-wing extremist, Wijewardene said. Authorities have placed all police stations in Colombo on high alert as police were hunting for an unidentified container truck and a van believed to be carrying explosives. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe described the Easter attacks as “global terrorism reaching Sri Lanka”. In his address to Parliament, Wickremesinghe said that the attacks were of a different nature than the political objectives of the terrorist campaign which Sri Lanka faced until 2009 when the three-decade long conflict ended with the defeat of the LTTE.
“Muslim community is against these attacks. There are only a few who are involved in these attacks,” he said, adding that the international community has expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka over the blasts. The group which carried out the attacks was trained for the planned attacks, he said, adding that the government will deal with the situation. Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa blamed the Government for failing to ensure national security. “When I handed over the government it was free of terrorism. No such attack would have happened under my government,” he said. Rajapaksa said the Government must step down if public security cannot be guaranteed. Meanwhile, police arrested 16 more suspects during the past 24 hours, taking the total number of arrested people to 40, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. “26 of them are with the CID, three are being held by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID).
Nine of them have been already remanded and two are being held at a Colombo south police station,” Gunasekera said. A mass funeral was held Tuesday at the St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, which bore the brunt of the powerful blasts. As many as 100 worshippers were killed at the St Sebastian’s Church. The funeral comes amid a state of Emergency declared in a gazette notification issued by President’s Secretary Udaya Senaviratne upon the directives of President Maithripala Sirisena. According to the gazette, the President had taken the measures in the interest of public security, to preserve public order and maintain supplies and essential services to the life of the people. For the first time since the attack, the traffic returned to roads in Colombo where security had been heightened. Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, which accounts for around five per cent of Sri Lanka’s GDP, is likely to suffer due to the Easter blasts. The tourism officials said that many tourists were cutting short their holidays and the airlines have suffered flight cancellations. The Government said they had taken some damage control measures as the arrivals are expected to decline at least during the next 3 months.
Two Muslim brothers were Sri Lanka hotel suicide bombers: Sources
MUSLIM brothers carried out two of the hotel suicide blasts in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, part of a wave of bombings that killed more than 320 people, police sources said Tuesday. The sons of a wealthy Colombo spice trader were among suicide bombers who hit three churches and three luxury hotels, investigators told AFP. An attack on a fourth hotel failed and helped lead police to the Islamist group now blamed for the assault, they added. The brothers, whose names have not been revealed, were in their late twenties and operated their own “family cell”, an investigation officer said.
The pair were key members of the Islamist National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) group which the government has blamed for the attacks, the official added. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the government has blamed the NTJ. One brother checked into the Cinnamon Grand hotel and the other the Shangri-La on Saturday.
The next morning, at virtually the same time, they went to the hotels’ Easter Sunday breakfast buffets and blew up explosives-laden backpacks, the officer said. Another bomb tore through a restaurant at the nearby Kingsbury hotel. Minutes before, similar explosions devastated three churches. Investigators said it was not known whether the brothers were in contact with the other bombers. Another would-be suicide bomber walked into a fourth luxury hotel in Colombo on Sunday, official sources told AFP. “This man had also checked into the hotel the previous day,” the source said. It was not known if his explosives failed or he had a change of heart. But after the Shangri-la blast, staff at the unnamed hotel became suspicious and the man was tracked to a lodging near the capital. He blew himself up there when confronted by police, the source said. Two bystanders were also killed. “What we have seen from the CCTV footage is that all the suicide bombers were carrying very heavy backpacks.
These appear to be crude devices made locally,” the source said. With 321 people confirmed dead, including at least 39 foreign nationals, and over 500 wounded, Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency and launched a desperate hunt to head off more attacks. The whereabouts of the brothers’ parents was unknown. But the blasts had a further impact on the family. One brother gave false identity details when he checked into the hotel, the investigator said. The other gave a real address which led police commandos to their family home in a commercial area of Colombo. “When the Special Task Force went there to investigate, one brother’s wife set off explosives killing herself and her two children,” the officer said. “It was a single terror cell operated by one family,” the investigator said. “They had the cash and the motivation. They operated the cell and it is believed they influenced their extended family.” Three police commandos were killed in the blast, and several extended family members are among those in detention. The brothers had been involved in their father’s lucrative spice export business, investigators said. A focus of the inquiry will be to find out whether there was a foreign influence in their radicalisation and how the children of such a wealthy family had become involved, an official source said. “What we have gathered so far is that they had indicated to their close family what they were going to do,” another senior police officer said. “It looks like they were inspired by foreign terrorist groups, but to what extent they had direct links is still unclear.”
Sri Lanka police chief Pujith Jayasundara issued an alert on April 11 that the NTJ could launch suicide attacks against churches and other targets. The whereabous of the NTJ leader, Zahran Hashmi, is also unknown. He was linked to the vandalising of Buddha statues on December 26 at the central town of Mawanella. The local Muslim community had been complaining to authorities about Hashmi since 2017. Residents of the village in the east of the country where he lived had demanded police action against him over his radical comments and acts, community leaders told AFP. “He was a threat to moderate Muslims in the east and we had made several complaints,” one Muslim leader told AFP. The police chief’s warnings about the NTJ were not passed to top ministers. A separate investigation is underway into why more was not done to stop the brothers and the other attackers